The Los Angeles Lakers heard a lot of noes from big names free agents before they finally got a yes from LeBron James, in 2018. The Lakers pursued James when he was a free agent in 2014, and they even met with his agent Rich Paul in Cleveland, but James decided to return to the Cavaliers and play with a rising star in Kyrie Irving instead.
That was probably the right choice.
The Lakers tried to sign a handful of other stars before getting a commitment from James in 2018, but to no avail. For our final installment for SB Nation’s “What If” week, we’re going to try and figure out what would have happened if the Lakers were successful in their pursuit of another star free agent — Carmelo Anthony — while Kobe Bryant was still on the roster.
While James was the biggest free agent on the market in 2014, he wasn’t the only one. In 2014, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks, and met face-to-face with the Lakers’ brass in free agency. Anthony opted to re-sign with the Knicks on a five-year, $120 million deal, but what if he signed with the Lakers instead?
From a competitive standpoint, the Lakers wouldn’t have been much better than the Knicks teams Anthony played for from 2014 to 2017. The Lakers had $57 million committed to Bryant, Anthony and Nash, and Bryant and Nash didn’t play much in the 2014-15 season due to injuries, so Anthony would have played bunch of fringe rotation players for most of the season. In theory, though, Anthony’s presence would have allowed Bryant to take extra time to rehab from his devastating Achilles injury, and Bryant would have played at least one relatively healthy season with Anthony — if not a whole season, then maybe the postseason.
It’s easy to forget, but even at the age of 30, Anthony was one of the premier scorers in the NBA. During the 2013-14 season, Anthony averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. Even after Bryant’s Achilles injury, that duo would have been a lot of fun to watch, especially if Bryant bought into a role as a facilitator.
Unfortunately, the more likely scenario is that Anthony and Bryant would have never played a meaningful game together. With the amount of miles Bryant had on his body, his injury history and his age, he was never going to come back and be the player he was before his injury. However, that doesn’t Anthony would have wasted his days in Los Angeles.
In 2016, when the cap spiked, Anthony could have recruited one of his closest friends, Dwyane Wade, to Los Angeles. Wade left the Miami Heat to sign with the Chicago Bulls in 2016, so it’s not unrealistic to assume he would have signed with the Lakers if Anthony was there. At the very least, he would have helped the Lakers sign better free agents than Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov.
Would Anthony have been the difference between the Lakers winning a championship and not? It’s doubtful, but the teams would have been more fun.
That being said, the team would have had a ceiling, Anthony would have been traded eventually, and if the package the Knicks got for Anthony in 2017 is any sign of what the Lakers would have gotten, Anthony saved them from themselves by re-upping with the Knicks. Hindsight is a funny thing.